New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has expressed support for its Five Eyes alliance with Australia, Britain, Canada and the United States, but says her country would also consider other economic alliances in the Pacific region.
NZ has faced increasing pressure from some elements among Western allies over its reluctance to use the Five Eyes intelligence and security alliance to criticise its top trading partner, China.
"We do have important alliances we are part of and we consider fit for purpose and we consider need to be used for the functions for which they were originally established," Ardern said on Friday in an interview for the upcoming Reuters Next conference.
"Beyond that, we consider that there's benefit to seeing a range of other actors in our region showing greater interest, not just in the strategic environment but the economic architecture for example of our region.
"We welcome other countries becoming more closely aligned through multilateral trade agreements, through bilateral trade agreements."
NZ Foreign Minister Nanaia Mahuta raised eyebrows earlier this year when she said she was uncomfortable about expanding the role of Five Eyes beyond a security and intelligence framework.
Mahuta also said NZ needed to maintain and respect China's "particular customs, traditions and values".
China, which takes almost one-third of NZ's exports, has accused Five Eyes of ganging up on it by issuing statements on Hong Kong and the treatment of ethnic Muslim Uyhgurs in Xinjiang.
Ardern, who earlier this year said that differences with China were "becoming harder to reconcile", said there was "no question that China's posture has changed in many ways".
"Over the last decade, I do think that we've seen a different dynamic, and a different range of leaders with a strategic interest in our region and that does pose challenges," she said.
"New Zealand, though, has been utterly consistent. We've always jealously guarded our foreign policy independent positions and continue to do so."
Australian Associated Press